« AnteriorContinuar »
credit, which is called in that college, speciali gratia. And this discreditable mark, as I am told, stands upon record in their college registry."
At first he did not wish to be a clergyman, "entering the church merely for support," but on Sir W. Temple offering him an employment in Ireland, worth £120 a year, he immediately determined to take holy orders. He continued to live, however, with his patron at Farnham, in Surrey, chafing under the treatment he received, once or twice leaving the house, to return again, as he had no other dependence, till Sir William died, and left him a legacy of four hundred pounds to edit his works.
From this time his attempts to get good livings, first a stall in Canterbury or Westminster, then the rich Deanery of Derry, and so on; the constant publication of pamphlets, satires, either in tales like the "Tale of a Tub," or Gulliver, poems, and later in life purely political party-writing, and the deadly agitations of his private life, form together a painful history. This painful history is a little relieved by his wit, which was always ready. One day walking with a party in a gentleman's garden with the fruit hanging on the trees, finding no offer was made of any to the guests, he observed, "It was a saying of my dear grandmother, Always pull a peach
When it hangs within your reach,"
and immediately helped himself, as did all the others
Another time, riding with a person who had employed himself collecting proverbs, who by some mischance had a fall in the mire, the Dean called out—
The more dirt
The less hurt ;
which so delighted the collector, who wondered he had so long missed that capital rhyme, he forgot his misfortune altogether. Many other rhyming adages he made in the same way, as this:
Through the water when you ride,
Keep very close or very wide.
At last came the sad end of a life that had given him little true happiness. Gradually the nitre and the blue flame flashed out and disappeared in darkness; all his faculties decayed, and his memory gave way. The last five years of his existence were spent in semiconsciousness and obliviousness in bed. He was now by far the most notable man in Ireland, and people occasionally bribed the servants to take them into his bedroom that they might look upon the wreck of the great wit and patriot. This was after a period of absolute madness, during which his friends had to employ guardians both of his person and property, when he knew no one, and walked backward and forward in his room ten hours a day. His last year was wholly silent, and he died, without making any sign, on the 19th of October, 1745.
Now I must give you some history of the book itself. "Gulliver's Travels" is really a satire on society and on the court of the day. Society and human nature he might satirise as much as he liked, but at that time to satirise the ministry was very dangerous, and to allude to the doings of people in authority fatal to any one looking for promotion. So there was a great mystery made about its authorship.
In 1726 Swift was some time in London, and on his return to Dublin was received with the ringing of bells, blazing bonfires, and an escort of citizens, a sort of triumphal procession, from the shore to the Deanery. This had little to do with his literary character, but was in consequence of his having saved Ireland from the imposition of a debased copper coinage, by publishing the "Drapier Letters" exposing the deception. At the very same time he was leaving London, Motte, the bookseller, received a parcel of MS., "dropped," as he said, "at his home, in the dark, from a hackney coach." This was "Gulliver's Travels," which he knew very well what to do with, and the "First Part" was forthwith published, and all Swift's friends, Pope, Say, Arbuthnot, and others, wrote to Swift, giving him accounts of the appearance of the Voyage to Lilliput, as if they were in ignorance on the subject of the authorship!
The "Second Part" followed next year, and the effect on the English public from the day of the appear
ance of the Voyage to Lilliput was so great as to amount to a kind of madness. Before the second edition could be passed through the press, the remaining copies of the first were raised in price. Writing about Swift, Dr. Johnson says:-"This year, 1727, sent into the world Gulliver's Travels,' a production so new and so strange that it filled the reader with a mingled emotion of merriment and amazement. It was read by the high and the low, the learned and the illiterate. Criticism was for a while lost in wonder. No rules of judgment were applied to a book written in open defiance of truth and regularity. But when distinctions came to be made, the part which gave least pleasure was that which describes the Flying Island, and that which gave most disgust must be the history of the Houyhnhnms. Whilst Swift was enjoying the reputation of his new work, the news of the king's death arrived, and he kissed the hands of the new king and queen three days after their accession."
Although so much secrecy was employed in the bringing out of Gulliver, the amount of personal or court satire is really very little. The factions of HighHeels and Low-Heels are the Whigs and Tories, then, however, very important distinctions indeed; and the Small-Endians and Big-Endians in eating eggs, are the Papists and Protestants. In the matter of high and low heels, the heir-apparent is described as wearing one heel high and one low, and the Prince of Wales,
who at that time divided his favours between the two political parties, had the sense to laugh heartily at the comparison. Many other allusions are to be found out, but the only very obvious one is the caricature of Sir Robert Walpole, as Premier Flimnap; and Sir Walter Scott observes, that "the Prime Minister probably afterwards remembered this, to the prejudice of the Dean's view of leaving Ireland."
These personal allusions are dropt as the story goes on, and the moral point of view comes forward frequently, as the criminality of fraud, or the reprehensibility of cruelty to birds, flies, &c., and the King of Brobdingnag's reflections on grandeur. Swift's dislike to Sir Isaac Newton and his ignorance of science come out very detrimentally to himself in the account of the Academy of Lagado. To undervalue the opening up of physical knowledge by analytical experiment is a favorite theme with him indeed. The assertion he puts into the mouth of Aristotle (the least of all the Greek philosophers likely to make it) that the doctrine of attraction (gravitation) would follow other exploded theories, was no doubt his own unenquiring view of the subject. We must give him credit for honesty at the sacrifice of his judgment, when he makes Aristotle say that "new systems of nature are but new fashions!" And when at the end he seems to find no terms bad enough to describe his fellow men and women under the name of Yahoos, he affords us a frightful picture